23.8.10

Whatever Happened to all the Hibiscus ?

'Molten Lava' Hibiscus
Decades ago I recall seeing a lot more Hibiscus than I see today. What happened ? Hibiscus were such a part of the landscape, along with Ixoras, Mussaendas, Heliconias, and other iconic plants of the area. Being an inquisitive person, I looked into the "Great Hibiscus Decline", for lack of a better term. I found several confluent factors, and some interesting results. 
Some of the factors include pest problems, and also include market forces, coupled with mass production techniques. The major reasons for the decline in Hibiscus have been introduced pests, primarily Gall Midge, Pink Hibiscus Mealybug ( REALLY hard to eradicate), whitefly, and nematodes ( parasitic root-infesting worms). In a word, Hibiscus have bug problems, but with modern pesticide chemistry,  and some older pest control tactics the pests  are manageable.      
Hibiscus schizopetalus- nematode resistant species
'Anderson Crepe' Hibiscus-nematode resistant hybrid
'Lafrance Pink' Hibiscus- nematode resistant hybrid
Nematode control is a bit more difficult, but still possible with organic controls that focus on enriching the soil, especially acidifying the soil, as well as adding specific ingredients like crushed crab shell, incorporating coffee grounds into the soil, and maintaining as rich an organic soil  as possible. Planting resistant types like 'Anderson Crepe', and 'Lafrance' are good ways to maintain hibiscus in your yard without a lot of maintenance. Organic rose fertilizers are excellent at helping to control nematodes. One of the reasons Hibiscus are less popular is that they require more care in the nursery at every stage of production, as well as being harder to handle on the retail garden shelf. The flowers last only a day, and if the plant isn't in flower at the moment a customer sees it, it may not sell. Many of the flashiest flowers, like 'Molten Lava', are slow growing, and usually are sold as grafted plants which cost more than the 'garden variety' types do. 
With all this extra care, one could ask 'why bother growing Hibiscus at all ?" My answer is that sometimes certain plants are worth the extra effort. Not everything is easy to grow, or effortless to maintain, but we should regain the interest to grow some of the more challenging plants. Long, long ago, a famous gardeners once said "if you're not killing a few plants now and then, you're using all your skills." This may be a strange statement to some, but it makes sense. Try a few new plants, and some of the old standby types as well. You may recapture the interest in gardening, and bring back a bit of history.   
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'Nairobi' Hibiscus














3 comments:

  1. we've got some pretty exotic hibiscus in nsw(oz) although you're absolutely correct about the bugs. all the hibiscus plants that I've seen are infested with ants and bugs and the hibiscus is one of those rare flowers that you can't cut and place into a vase, it simply wilts and dies within the day.

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  2. Good Day SMG- I am still a fan for Hibiscus, but I'm getting to the point of growing plants that require less care. To that end, I am planting more of the 'older' varieties, and putting a few more resources into keeping these 'classic' varieties looking good. 'Anderson Crepe' is still a great plant and puts on a good show all year, as does 'La France'. For the shorter varieties, 'Seminole Pink' is one of the most robust. One of the things that helps in reducing maintenance is to use a growth regulator such as Bonzi or Cycocel as a root drench. The plants slow down quite nicely, and the products are labeled and legal for this purpose.

    If I am going to spend time on spraying and fertilizing such plants, I can trim down the overall work effort by cutting the amount of time I take to prune the plants. This works really well with H. schizopetalus and others with long and lanky growth. Keep up the good work !

    Thanks for your comments !

    Craig Morell
    Pinecrest Gardens

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  3. #1) Is Hibiscus 'Danty White' nematode-resistant?

    #2) Are there any other nematode resistant Hibiscus besides:
    'Anderson Crepe', 'Seminole Pink', 'La France', 'Nairobi',& 'schizopetalus' ??

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